Disciplinary board admonishes Mingo prosecutor

By Steve Korris | Jun 22, 2007

CHARLESTON - After the Lawyer Disciplinary Board told Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks not to investigate county commissioners without a special prosecutor, his office served a subpoena for commissioner Halcy Hatfield's bank accounts.

On May 12, the disciplinary board admonished Sparks, warned him and reminded him of his duties.

Sparks argued that employees acted without his knowledge and that when he found out about the subpoenas he told bankers to disregard them.

His explanation did not impress the board.

Stephen Jory, chairman of the board's investigative panel, wrote that at best Sparks failed to exercise proper authority over his office.

"At worst, he acted in direct contravention of the advice issued by disciplinary counsel," Jory wrote.

The board had admonished Sparks before, in 1999. At that time Sparks did not hold public office.

Hatfield complained to the board on Aug. 1, 2005. He wrote that Sparks represented him as county commissioner in an investigation of bills the Federal Emergency Management Agency paid.

The agency had responded to a flood in the county the year before.
Hatfield wrote that he and Sparks engaged in discussions that established lawyer-client confidentiality.

He wrote that he received notice of a July 21 subpoena commanding the Bank of Mingo to furnish records of his transactions to Sheriff Lonnie Hannah.

The subpoena listed Sparks as Hannah's attorney.

Hatfield wrote, "After acting on my behalf and then turning around and acting as an attorney against me when Mr. Sparks and I shared attorney/client privilege seems to be a gross injustice to me, and, as I understand it, is unethical behavior on the part of Michael Sparks."

He wrote that the sheriff asked private businesses for documents of his transactions.

He wrote that three days earlier, Sparks made derogatory statements about him on a radio show.

The complaint struck a nerve at the disciplinary board, for Sparks had asked the board for informal advice on July 6.

Someone at the board told Sparks it would be a conflict of interest for him to investigate commissioners for criminal conduct.

Sparks said it might turn into self dealing by commissioners.

In that case, he was told, he should immediately stop the investigation and move for appointment of a special prosecutor.

In response to the complaint, Sparks accused Hatfield of attacking him and politicizing the investigation.

He stated that he made clear in a press release that he was not investigating the county commission.

He stated that Hatfield provided no confidential information.

He stated that his staff inadvertently issued the subpoenas.

In admonishing Sparks, Jory wrote that it was troubling to the panel that subpoenas were issued after the board gave Sparks its opinion.

He wrote that rules of professional conduct regarding conflicts of interest preserve the duty of loyalty to a client.

He wrote that a prosecutor cannot act adversely to a county commission.

He reminded Sparks that he "may not both investigate members of the county commission and properly render candid legal advice."

He warned Sparks to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

He reminded him to take precautionary measures in his office to ensure that assistants do not act outside their authority.

He wrote, "Moreover, Respondent is reminded that the actions of the non-lawyer assistants in his office are attributable to him and he will be ultimately responsible for their actions."

Finally he expressed concern with Sparks's public statements and reminded him of his duties along that line.

He noted that Hatfield is no longer a commissioner.

The last time the board admonished Sparks, he mixed himself up in a family fight.

He represented brother-in-law Jeffrey Stumbo in divorce and paternity actions in 1997.

Sparks and Stumbo soon fell out. Stumbo, at home, told his mother Judy Stumbo and others that he would hire a new attorney.

That started something that ended when Jeffrey Stumbo's mother cracked his mother-in-law across a knee with a bat.

Sparks withdrew as Jeffrey Stumbo's counsel.

In 1998, Sparks appeared at a hearing for Judy Stumbo. He tried to call Jeffrey Stumbo as a witness, but the state objected.

The magistrate excused Jeffrey Stumbo.

Jeffrey Stumbo filed a complaint against Sparks.

The board admonished Sparks, finding that the interests of mother and son were adverse.

The board found that Sparks would have had to cross examine a former client.

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